Gaming-Room-101---The-Quick-Time-Event--QTE- Gaming Room 101 - The Quick Time Event (QTE)

   07/06/2011 at 07:22       Phil May       6 COMMENTS.
 - Gaming Room 101, Quick Time Events, Button Mashing, Yu Suzuki, Dragon's Lair

Alright, I'll admit it. This may sound like a knee jerk reaction to the news that freshly rebooted and once again successful racing franchise Need for Speed will contain one of the most retarded and immersion-breaking game elements ever conceived next time. But bear with me - I will sell you a plaintive plea for removing Quick Time Events from the face of the planet, and boy howdy by the end of this article you'll agree even if I have to bludgeon it into you with a quick press of the A button, followed by a slow rotate of the right thumbstick.

One can argue which game was first responsible for inflicting this atrocity on gamers the world over, but looking back to the heady golden era of the amusement arcade, and the first laser disk games that appeared therein, I can definitely remember my first encounter with them.

Don Bluth's incredible game "Dragon's Lair" was THE most expensive machine in the grotty arcade near our hotel on a family holiday in Weymouth. It cost a whopping £1 to play (back before pound coins were invented and you'd need to get a brace of 10p pieces to feed into the thing to bring it to life). The game equated to ten goes on other arcade machines and I'll admit I was purely dazzled by the game's attract mode. Surely a humble arcade game couldn't put you in control of a living breathing cartoon?

I was right. It couldn't. Following the on-screen prompts I think I managed to stay on the machine for all of 30 seconds before Dirk the Daring plunged to his doom simply because I wasn't quick enough to roughly shove the game's joystick to the right.

Various laserdisk games came and went in arcades. Dragons Lair was superseded by the sumptuous looking Space Ace, but by then my fingers had been burned and I vowed never to touch another one of the things simply because of the aching disappointment they'd caused.

Moving on, the man who is seen as 'The Grandaddy of QTEs' brought to life an amazing gameworld and a fantastic cast of characters for what would become one of the Sega Dreamcast's most popular and fondly remembered games. Yu Suzuki, the man who arguably kicked Sega's arcade arm up a notch by dishing up polygon-based goodies like Virtua Racer and Virtua Fighter, produced the sprawling Shenmue series.

Shenmue was amazing. One of those rare games that saw me and my other half teaming up to complete the game and its sequel. Ryu's tale set the standard for sandbox games and the sense of being able to roam anywhere. Unfortunately, it also contained a whole brace of quick time events that stole direct control away from the player for anything from dodging oncoming vehicles, to scrapping it out with the local badasses.

For a game so innovative in so many ways, and so involving, Quick Time Events popping up in the middle of intense situations just felt like a lazy way of thinking around the problem of shoehorning multiple and complex control systems into a console game.

Shenmue also contained a goodly dose of another type of Quick Time Event, the 'button mash'. Born in arcades again, the button mash was once the only way to convincingly reproduce the physical effort of sports or track and field events. Many home computer owners probably have their own anecdotal tales of how they wrecked expensive joysticks on their C64 or Speccy by playing the likes of Daley Thompson's Decathlon, or Hyper Sports.

After Shenmue, it took a while before QTEs popped their ugly heads above the parapet once again. The latter Resident Evil Games (from Code Veronica onwards) were lightly peppered with them and even Resident Evil 4 resorted to QTEs for one of its most important (and least satisfying to play) combat sequences.

And still they come. Playstation 3 showcase Heavenly Sword ruined its sumptuous art direction and graphical look by shoving glaring on-screen prompts into everything from battles to acrobatic sequences, completely ruining any immersion in the game (the game engine's execrable lack of V-Synch polished it off in that respect too).

As technology moves forward, and as players demand more realistic experiences from their games, it seems that QTEs are still used more often than not to blur the lines between merely watching a sequence and interacting with it in some way. Controversial PS3 showcase title Heavy Rain laid its cinematic soul bare, but felt like one huge quick time event strung together with infrequent (and often rather clunky) periods of direct control. So much work went into making Heavy Rain feel like a movie that it felt like Quantic Dream hadn't got a clue how to actually provide the link between the player and the game itself. So they resorted to punishing thumb-tangling QTEs to try and convey the natural movements of characters in the game.

In one memorable sequence, a whole scene plays out as a series of rapid-fire QTEs and your failure to complete the sequence effectively meant that the direction of the game could irreparably change. Quantic Dream had already used similar elements in Fahrenheit and learned absolutely no lessons when they did exactly the same in Heavy Rain. Even the addition of motion control (via Sony's innovative Move controllers) did nothing to make Heavy Rain any less of a chore in places.

Stepping right up to the present day, and the game that prompted this outburst, Need for Speed: The Run allows the player to get out of the car for the first time in the series. Unfortunately, rather than giving the player a chance to perform a few GTA-style on-foot sequences under direct control, the between-race scenes are played out as a series of QTEs. Watching the footage of the game makes me wonder why a company would pour so much effort into ruining a series they've only just wrestled back onto the road to success.

In true Room 101 style I'm supposed to try and balance out my argument by pointing out the positive side of QTEs. In some ways I could point out that without QTEs we arguably would never have seen the entire Rhythm Action Genre step out of the shadows of games like Parappa the Rappa, to more or less dominate the noughties as the ideal way to interact with musical games. Guitar Hero, Rock Band and countless other clones have established their own genre and though interest in the games is waning substantially, they're still selling and there are still some great moments to be had by inviting a bunch of friends round to wave plastic instruments around in your lounge, living out your rock fantasies.

As hardware becomes more complex, and motion control systems take their first faltering steps towards accurately turning our own spasmodic movements into smooth actions on-screen, QTEs feel like a gameplay element scratched into the walls of ancient caves. Harking back to an era when the average home games machine had a controller with one action button and a mere 8 directions of movement, QTEs should be put to bed along with button mashing for all but a select few game genres.

Feel differently about QTEs? Drop a line in the white box below. I love a good argument.

User Comments:

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Tiger_Walts - on 07/06/2011 at 10:30 wrote:
You do realise that a 'brace' means 'a pair'. Did you hack your Arcade cabs back then? Were you a dirty 'foiler' who wrapped their 2 shilling pieces in aluminium foil to trick the mech into thinking it was a 50p?

peej - on 07/06/2011 at 10:54 wrote:
Ulg I've been misusing it for years then. Never mind, you learn something new every day.

The only time I ever hacked an arcade cabinet was when a friend had a 4 player Gauntlet cab and we made homebrew levels for it.

Christ I'm old but I barely remember 10ps as 2 shillings ffs!

Tiger_Walts - on 07/06/2011 at 11:25 wrote:
They did disappear about 20 years ago, 1993 to be exact.

Trip SkyWay - on 07/06/2011 at 11:41 wrote:
I'm not a fan of QTEs. I think I'd rather watch the cut scenes they appear in without input, though I'd probably start moaning about there being too many cut scenes.

Half Life 2 managed spectacle without wresting control from you, and Mirror's Edge found ways to let you control incredible gymnastics.

I guess QTEs just don't feel tied enough to the on in game characters actions for me.

peej - on 07/06/2011 at 11:45 wrote:
I'd like to see narrative-led games (like Heavy Rain) lose that kind of laziness altogether and go for something like LA Noire's methods of interacting with scenery / clues or other gameplay elements. Context-sensitive controls would be a better move.

Or if you're looking for something that smoothly integrates with cinematics, how about merely giving the player control of the in-game camera instead, with the ability to move around scenes and see them from different perspectives?

In a game like Need for Speed though, QTEs just scream 'casual gaming experience' and from what I've seen of The Run so far, Black Box are about to do what they did originally to the series - and shaft it firmly up the arse for the next few years until Criterion's fine efforts to get the franchise back on track are a long distant memory.

Tiger_Walts - on 07/06/2011 at 12:11 wrote:
When I saw the video for the first time and he burst onto the rooftop with the first person view I thought,

"Wow! They're going to do a Mirror's Edge, that might actually work!"

And then the camera cut to another viewpoint and 'press triangle to not die' button appeared. At which point my face spent some quality time with my palm.

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